Abbey Road Studio, Studio 3, London
Following the Beatles’ break-up in April 1970, John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono undertook primal therapy with the guidance of Arthur Janov for four weeks at his London offices, before the three flew to Los Angeles to continue the therapy for four months. Janov’s therapy technique emphasised emotionally reliving repressed childhood traumas rather than analytical discussion. In July 1970, Lennon started to record demos of songs he wrote that would show up on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and on one particular day, the 26th, Lennon recorded numerous demos of his song “God“, which features the line “I don’t believe in Beatles”. Lennon’s therapy was never completed due to the expiry of his US visa. With the experience he received from the therapy, he was able to channel his emotions into an album’s worth of self-revelatory material.
Lennon and Ono returned from the US on 24 September 1970, to start working on Lennon’s album a few days later. Recording began at Abbey Road Studios between 26 September and 27 October 1970 using Lennon, Klaus Voormann, and Ringo Starr as the core musicians, with Phil Spector and Billy Preston each playing piano on a track. The group jammed to a variety of songs in between recording new tracks: “When a Boy Meets a Girl”, “That’s All Right Mama“, “Glad All Over“, “Honey Don’t“, “Don’t Be Cruel“, “Hound Dog“, and “Matchbox“. “Plastic Ono Band” refers to the conceptual band Lennon and Ono had formed in 1969 of various supporting musicians they would use on their various solo albums. Lennon asked Spector, who had produced Lennon’s hit “Instant Karma!” earlier that year, to co-produce the album. Spector played piano on “Love“, but Lennon and Ono produced the album largely on their own, as Spector was unavailable during most of the recording sessions. Spector mixed the album for three days towards the end of October.
Music and lyrics
Lennon’s experience in primal therapy strongly influenced both the lyrical content of the album, pushing him toward themes of child-parent relationships and psychological suffering, and the simple yet intense style of the album’s music. Throughout the album Lennon touches on many personal issues: his abandonment by his parents, in “Mother”; the means by which young people are made into soldiers, in “Working Class Hero”; a reminder that, despite his rage and pain, Lennon still embraces “Love”; and “God”, a renunciation of external saviours. In the piano-driven climax of “God,” after listing a handful of “idols” he does not believe in, including Jesus, Hitler, Elvis, Zimmerman (Bob Dylan), and Beatles, Lennon proclaims that he believes only in himself and Ono.
“Look at Me” dates from the period of The Beatles, and is built on a fingerpicking guitar pattern very similar to the one Lennon used in “Dear Prudence“, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun“, and “Julia“. Lennon learned this technique from Donovan while the two were in Rishikesh. The album was released in Japan under the title ジョンの魂 (John no Tamashii?), which translates as “John’s Soul”.
Lennon’s album cover is almost identical to Ono’s companion piece, the subtle difference being that on Ono’s cover, she is lying on Lennon’s body. The photo was snapped with a consumer-grade Instamatic camera by actor Dan Richter, who also worked as an assistant for the Lennons at the time. The initial compact disc issue of the album listed the title and artist, while the 2000 remastered version restores the original artwork. In addition, the original LP did not feature a track listing on the back cover, which instead showed a school photo of Lennon in his youth.
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was released on the same day in both the UK and US, 11 December 1970. Ono’s matching album, Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band, was released on the same day. “Mother“, backed with Ono’s track “Why”, was released as a single in the US. After Lennon’s death, the album, along with seven other Lennon albums, was reissued by EMI as part of a box set, which was released in the UK on 15 June 1981.[nb 1] In 2000, Ono supervised a remixing of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band for its remastered CD reissue, including two bonus tracks: Lennon’s 1971 hit “Power to the People”, and “Do the Oz”, which had appeared on the 1998 box set John Lennon Anthology. In 2003, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissued the album in 24-karat Gold CD audio and 180 gram half-speed mastered GAIN 2 Ultra Analog in vinyl reissues. In 2010, a digital remaster of Lennon’s entire discography was released, using original mixes and artwork.